Monthly Archives: May 2012

See You at Harry’s

Middle school sucks. There is no way around that. You don’t know who you are yet, and you feel like you’ll never know. You want to be your own person, yet you don’t want to stick out. And the worst – the worst! – is your parents. They have the power to crush you with shame and embarrassment.

Welcome to the world of Fern, named after the character in Charlotte’s Web, someone destined to be a good friend. As if being saddled with the name of a girl with a pet pig isn’t burden enough, Fern also has to deal with her restaurant-owning parents, particularly her father, who includes the whole family – Fern, older sister Sara (named after the girl in The Little Princess), older brother Holden (named after Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye) and younger “oops baby” brother Charlie (named after the one with the chocolate factory), plus their mom – in a commercial. The tag line of the ad, “See you at Harry’s,” is spoken with adorable three-year-old charm by Charlie. But Fern is appalled and embarrassed. She also feels no small measure of resentment toward Charlie. Not that she doesn’t love him – she clearly does – but too often she is called upon to watch him because her mother and sister do not. Fern wants more freedom, but taking care of Charlie is a burden. Meanwhile, she finds herself developing romantic feelings toward Ran, her best friend since grade school.
Then there is Holden. He battles bullies on the bus, heathens who taunt him for being gay. Not that Holden has come out to his family yet; he’s 14, and he believes his family won’t understand. When Fern overhears him tell a friend that his family is clueless, she feels hurt and angry.

Not all of us are, I think. We love you. You’re the one who’s too clueless to notice.

The family chugs along, each fighting a private battle, until a tragedy brings them together. But the coming together is not easy, and each has to discover on his or her own that they need each other and love each other. They have to be there for each other.

What starts as a breezy story of a 12-year-old girl surviving middle school develops into a family struggling to survive disaster. There are moments of joy and happiness in this book, but there are also moments of devastation. Have a box of tissues nearby.

The characters are wonderful. Fern is so lovable and sweet that you will want to adopt her. She’s also very well written; she truly is a 12-year-old girl. Holden is also richly drawn; Sara is more complex than she appears, but I did want to know more about her. Charlie and the parents jump out as well.

See You at Harry’s is a lovely book, perfect for pre- and early teens. Who knows – it might help them appreciate their families a little more.

Published by Candlewick and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

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What I Didn’t Say

As a high school teacher, I preach the cautionary tale that one stupid decision can cost a lot more than you care to pay, so don’t be stupid. It tends to fall on deaf ears. 

In this sad-yet-hopeful book, by Keary Taylor, Jake Hayes pays the price for a moment of stupidity, and the check he writes is for a lifetime. On the night of his senior Homecoming game, Jake, his fellow football players, and an assortment of classmates gather at a friend’s house for some revelry and celebration. Jake, typical of teenagers, drinks a couple of beers. As the alcohol loosens him up, he decides that this is the moment to go tell Samantha Shay, a girl he has loved forever, that he does, in fact, love her. So he hops in a truck with two equally intoxicated friends and … he winds up losing his vocal chords.
Jake must come to grips with the new question in his life: now what?
Showing almost preternatural maturity, perhaps due to being one of seven siblings, Jake decides that this accident will not define him or cage him. He will not be a victim. Yet, he does occasionally wallow in self-pity. He has moments of frustration, and he combats despair. When he returns to school after the accident, he does so with his hood pulled up, desperately trying to forestall people staring at his scar. He watches his friends move on, seemingly without a care or concern, and it dawns on him that he will never again yell at his siblings. He has to adjust.
But in the midst of this darkness comes some light: he and Samantha grow closer. She even comes with other classmates to visit him in the hospital.

“Bye, Jake,” a sweet voice said as bodies filed out the door. My eyes rose to meet Samantha’s. She looked at me sadly, but for once, it felt like she was really seeing me.

Something in me hardened. 

It had taken nearly getting decapitated for Sam to finally really notice me. 

I didn’t even say, or rather write or wave good-bye as she gave me one more sad look and left, closing the door behind her. 

Screw them all. 

Especially Samantha.

So, yeah. He has some work to do. But despite the bitterness, Jake adjusts to his muteness with startling equanimity. 
What I liked about this book is its story and characters. Jake is a guy you root for, even when he’s feeling sorry for himself or doing something stupid. He is determined that the accident will not destroy him, but there are moments when he acknowledges that he is powerless to combat some of the changes he now must make.
Samantha, too, is lovely. She has challenges of her own, which we slowly discover. Much like Jake, she demonstrates extraordinary grace under circumstances that would decimate her peers. 
And this brings me to what I didn’t like about this book: Jake and Samantha are almost too good. Yes, they struggle. Yes, they have much to overcome. But despite their separately horrific circumstances, they show strength of character that most teens do not or cannot. On the other hand, I think teenagers will read this and think, “I can do it,” when faced with obstacles and challenges. Jake and Samantha may turn out to be role models. 
There are some heartbreaking moments in this book, and the mistakes Jake and Samantha make are very real. In fact, it is those mistakes that ground them as characters and invest you in their stories. 
What I Didn’t Say is the story of overcoming adversity, yes, but it is also a cautionary tale. Do not put off saying something that is important to you, because you may not get the chance. Do not waste time, because you might not have it to waste.
Published by CreateSpace and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

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Party of Three

When it comes to reading about threesomes, I prefer two dudes and one girl. I think it’s because I don’t enjoy reading lesbian sex scenes; they just don’t do it for me. So when a book includes a girl-girl-guy menage trois, I have a difficult time getting into it. When it’s a girl-girl-boy menage trois with a graphic rape scene? The ick factor kicks in big time for me.

Such is the case with Daire St. Denis’ Party of Three, which focuses on Tina, her roommate, Desi, and Desi’ boyfriend, Josh. They comprise the title, and they engage in some three-way lovin’. While girls eating each others’ lady parts doesn’t make me moist, I’m sure it does for some readers, and I’ve got to say that St. Denis writes some hot sex scenes. Tina, Des and Josh rock that headboard right off its hinges.

But then there is the rape scene. And that, well, turned me off, quite thoroughly.

So the story is that Tina somewhat discovers that Desi and Josh are open to including her in their sexy times, and she’s happy to join. But she has a troublesome client, Kenton, whom Des warns her about quite vehemently. But Tina continues to work for him, which winds up getting her in a heap of trouble.

This may be a quick book to read, but it packs a lot of sex action, including some mild bondage. Daire St. Denis certainly can describe a hot kiss:

It was one thing to know how passionate a kiss felt. It was quite another to see it. Josh cupped Desi’s face in his strong hands and tilted her head for better access. I liked it. Desi could be so domineering, and it was good to see her controlled, even if it was just a simple kiss. 

I take that back – there was nothing simple about the way Josh kissed her. His tongue teased her lips and the inside of her mouth and, just when she reached for him, seeming to beg for more, he pulled away. She groaned and tried to catch his mouth by turning her head but he kept his distance, licking around her mouth, her cheek, ear, throat. He didn’t come back to her lips until he was good and ready and when he finally did, it was full-on. There was nothing gentle about it. Josh owned Desi’s mouth.

And away we go. Tina takes a liking to Desi’s, um, nether regions, and her feelings are reciprocated. She also takes a liking to Josh, which could have been an interesting area to explore, plot-wise, but St. Denis prefers to keep us in bed or in the shower or in the bathtub. Why delve deeper into Tina’s feelings for Josh when we can get her raped?

I didn’t like this book a whole lot, as you clearly can tell. But I’ll give St. Denis props for writing some good sex scenes. It was ruined with the rape, though. We just didn’t need to go there.

Published by Carina Press and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

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Brook Street: Rogues

Let’s just cut to the chase, shall we? I cannot get into lesbian sex scenes. It isn’t that I’m a prude – good grief, I loved that crappy Fifty Shades trilogy. I think it’s just that I have no interest in it, and I can’t make the leap to enjoying reading about it. Just like I’m not a huge fan of paranormal romances. They just don’t turn my crank.

But Brook Street: Rogues, by Ava March, is about gay men, and I enjoyed THAT quite a bit.
This is my first strictly dickly romance novel, and I have to say, I found the headboard rockin’ to be quite hot. But first, the plot.
Rob and Linus have been friends forever, and now live side-by-side (no pun intended – their homes are next door to each other) in 1822 London. Homosexuality was not in vogue, nor was it condoned. The two men hide the preferences, so much so that Linus believes Rob prefers sex with women. But Rob isn’t so sure. He asks Linus to be his exclusive lover, to which Linus responds, “Thank you, but no.”
Rob is devastated and confused. As far as he can tell, he and Linus are made for each other.

He’d been with enough women. The mechanics were different, but intimacy was intimacy. He and Linus were damn amazing together. Always had been. No way could Linus be fool enough to believe otherwise. And that wasn’t misplaced pride or arrogance on Rob’s part. It took two to create the level of heat that burned between them. One kiss was all that was needed, and every line of Linus’s body shouted his desire for more. Much more.

This is not a case of opposites attracting; the two have their differences, but they are more alike than not. And, as Rob observes, they are completely simpatico between the sheets, each determined to satisfy the other.

Ava March may not create wildly unforgettable characters – I can’t remember their last names, and I’m too lazy to look them up – but the sex scenes. Oh, people. The sex scenes between these two are HOT.

Brook Street: Rogues is a fast read with a negligible plot. It won’t make you ponder any of life’s great mysteries, nor is there much to analyze, discuss or think about. But it’s got some hot sex scenes, and it may open some minds that are closed to gay lovin’.

Published by Carina Press and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

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The Last Good Man

There is something so quietly compelling about The Last Good Man, by Kathleen Eagle, that I struggle with writing this review. I don’t know how to describe it, other than to say that The Last Good Man is one good book.

Savannah Stephens has returned home to Sunbonnet, Wyoming, from which she escaped after high school, intent on a modeling career. She achieved it, landing in a catalog similar to Victoria’s Secret. But when she comes home, she is several years removed from the limelight … and she brings a young daughter with her.

Clay Keogh, Savannah’s best friend from childhood, didn’t quite stay in Sunbonnet. He joined the military, eschewing his dream of being a veterinarian, but he’s been back long enough to have married and divorced. When he hears Savannah is in town, he is nervous and anticipates seeing her. Their first meeting exceeds every expectation he had.

He touched his lips to hers, tentative only for an instant. His hunger was as unmistakable as hers. His arms closed around her slight shoulders, hers around his lean waist. He smelled of horsehide and leather, and tasted of whiskey, felt as solid as the Rockies, and kissed like no man she’d ever known, including a younger Clay Keogh. She stood on tiptoe to kiss him back, trade him her breath for his, her tongue for his.

“Savannah …”

We discover that Savannah is hiding more than one secret, one of them more shocking than the other. Her friendship with Clay, which included some sexual experimentation in their teens (always to her satisfaction, only once to his, and even then …), was eclipsed by her crush on Clay’s older half-brother, Kole, the part-Indian father of Savannah’s daughter. We also learn that Clay, in addition to running his family’s ranch, has a weakness for horses no one else wants – horses that are imperfect or suffering.

And it is that particular symbolism that is a tad heavy handed in an otherwise good book. We get it. Clay feels sorry for sick, broken or incapacitated horses – horses no one else wants. Then there is Savannah, sick, broken and emotionally incapacitated. Yet Kathleen Eagle also shows us that Clay loves Savannah, has loved her since they were children. They are best friends, yes, but it’s more than that on his part. Is it on hers?

There are some sex scenes, and while none are graphic, they are hot. Clay knows what Savannah wants as far as sexual intimacy is concerned, even if she isn’t always ready to reciprocate.

A lot happens in The Last Good Man, but none of it is cataclysmic or volcanic. Instead, it’s grounded in realism and truth, which makes us enjoy the characters all the more, and not just Clay and Savannah, but also Claudia, Savannah’s daughter, and Patty, Clay’s father. But this book is about Savannah more than anything else. She’s a survivor, but she has a long way to go before she can give Clay what he wants and deserves, and what she wants and deserves as well.

It turns out that, in The Last Good Man, at least, you can go home again. It helps if you’ve got a good man waiting for you. 

Published by Bell Bridge Books and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

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Diamond Jubilee Giveaway

There are only five days left in Romance at Random’s Diamond Jubilee Giveaway.

Click on the Rafflecopter below to enter for a chance to win one of 26 prizes. Come on, kids! It’s book! Free books!

Why a Diamond Jubilee Hop? For our hero Nev, in ABOUT LAST NIGHT, by Ruthie Knox

First, a bit of trivia:
The Diamond Jubilee takes place in 2012, marking 60 years of The Queen’s reign. The Queen came to the throne on 6th February 1952 (her Coronation took place on 2nd June 1953).

Buckingham Palace is responsible for coordinating the events of the Diamond Jubilee central weekend (2nd–5th June 2012), as well as for organizing The Queen’s program in her Diamond Jubilee year.
ABOUT LAST NIGHT, Ruthie Knox
Now, more about Nev, he feels trapped and miserable in his family’s banking empire located in downtown London, England. But beneath his pinstripes is an artist struggling to break free. Albeit, his bohemian-self is trying to emerge, Nev is respectful of his roots and tradition & we want to help him celebrate his queen.

Enter below to win beginning 5/21 thru 5/31 – Romance at Random will be randomly giving away some of our jewels of romance, to celebrate the UK’s Diamond Jubilee including:

  • 1 winner, 1 copy – Born To Darkness by Suzanne Brockmann
  • 1 winner, 1 copy – The Proposal by Mary Balogh
  • 1 winner, 1 copy – Darker After Midnight by Lara Adrian
  • 3 winners, 1 copy of WITCHFUL THINKING by HP Mallory
  • 10 winners, 1 copy of a PREVIEW from Net Galley of ABOUT LAST NIGHT by Ruthie Knox
  • 10 winners, 1 copy of PREVIEW from Net Galley of DEEP AUTUMN HEAT by Elisabeth Barrett
  • That’s right, 26 winners in all! 

    Enter the hop using the Rafflecopter below then visit all of the participating sites to increase your chances – winners will be randomly chosen and this is a big one . . . it could be you! US only for this one – Good luck!

      a Rafflecopter giveaway

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    Valley of Fire

    Sometimes while reading, I will imagine a soundtrack for the book. In the case of Janelle Taylor’s Valley of Fire, that soundtrack is limited to this chorus: “A little less conversation, a little more action, please.”


    Look, I admire authors. Writing a book is not easy, and I doff my wig to them at every opportunity. But sometimes, let’s face it, a book just is not good. Sometimes, a book just flat out is awful.

    As far as Valley of Fire is concerned, the problems lie in repetition, failure to create engaging characters, and an entirely predictable story line. But mostly, the problem is in how it’s written. Ms. Taylor’s descriptive phrases are laugh out loud awful, to the point that I found myself saying out loud, on more than one occasion, “Who the hell published this crap?” There are some paragraphs in which every sentence begins with the same word. Hello, sentence variety? Do we not know about it?

    And the talking. The talking, the talking, the talking. Good grief. There are more conversations in this book than I hold in a year. And every last one of them springs from a well of the ridiculous. Brandy Alexander (for reals, people – that is her name) is a novelist specializing in, well, I can’t really say. Historical romance? Science fiction? It seems to change. But anyway. She’s writing a book and needs to research Las Vegas and its environs. While there, she nearly dies of heat exhaustion, but is rescued by the strappingly virile and handsome Steven Winngate, who also happens to be – of course – very, very rich. He comes to believe that she’s researching him for one of her books, so he decides to get back at her. OF COURSE they fall for each other. Like, duh.

    Over lunch, during one of their interminable conversations, she confesses to all manner of inner thoughts and personal motivations. Why? Don’t ask me. I can’t tell you. All I know is that I lost 30 minutes of my life reading that mess that I will never get back. I also wasted too much time reading Ms. Taylor’s lengthy descriptions of Steven’s and Brandy’s bodies and what they were wearing. To whit:

    Sturdy legs agilely straddled the motor in his jeans. [THE MOTOR IN HIS JEANS??? Oh, my God. Again, the editor. WHERE IS THE EDITOR?] He sat the girl before him, careful to keep her legs and ankles away from the hot engine and tailpipe. He placed her left leg across his right thigh and her right leg over his left thigh. He removed his yellow bandana which served to entrap his perspiration as well as dress up his western attire. He bound her hands together and slipped them over his head, allowing them to rest around his narrow and firm waist [well, of course it’s NARROW AND FIRM, because we wouldn’t want to be anything less than predictable] where not an ounce of excess flesh was permitted to exist [!!!!!!!!]. The span of his muscular chest and the measured reach of her bound arms brought their heated bodies into close contact. 

    It goes on. And on and on and on.

    I can’t really explain the plot of this dreck, because, quite frankly, there isn’t much of one. You’ll get pages – and I mean PAGES – of Brandy explaining how difficult it is to write novels and love scenes and deal with editors. You’ll have to sift through pages of what it means to be a woman trying to work and have it all. And pages of Steven yapping about, well, not much, really.

    Then there are the love scenes. Picture every hackneyed euphemism, amplify it by 1000%, and you have the sexy times in this book. Tongues lap around nipples, heat surges through bodies, kisses that shatter, hungry mouths, and passionate lovin’ that takes them to the edge of reality and completion.

    Unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, which is written badly and edited worse, Valley of Fire has nothing going for it. There is not a captivating story here, nor are there interesting characters.

    Do yourself a favor and avoid Valley of Fire. I read it so you don’t have to.

    Published by Severn House Publishing Ltd. and available on Amazon.com.
    Thanks (I guess) to NetGalley for the preview.

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    Filed under blah romance, sometimes the book just flat out sucks